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Winds
And
Weather

by Jonas Ramoth and Sidney Stephens


Appendix A - Weather Information


 

Jonas Ramoth is an Iñupiaq Elder originally from Selawik but now living in Kotzebue. He left Selawik as a boy for school in White Mountain and then went on to Mt. Edgecomb. After schooling, he returned to Selawik where he hunted, trapped and fished in addition to raising a family and being the postmaster for many years. He moved from there to Kotzebue 16 years ago when his wife died and now lives with his extended family and adopted children. He works as an Interpretive Naturalist for the National Park Service. In this capacity, Jonas: responds to inquiries and requests for information about the parks in northwest Alaska or about the history and culture of the region; talks with visitors; and travels with other Park Service employees to surrounding villages where he acts as an interpreter and liaison. He is very active on the local and regional Elders councils and spends much of his time working with children in schools where he likes to tell stories about animals, cultural values, the old ways and shaman. Family photos adorn his office walls, as does a photo of himself with a pet falcon and a plaque commending his 35 years of service to the United States Government.

Notes from visit with Jonas Ramoth
November 30 - December 1, 1999
Park Service Office, Kotzebue

Need to Know

After catching up a bit with Jonas I described the weather unit that I had written and explained that while I felt good about the general format, the unit was really not so useful because it lacked the critical cultural information that would make it seem relevant and alive. I said that my audience was 4th graders and asked him when he first started learning about weather signs and what kinds of things would be appropriate for children of that age.

He said that weather is never the first thing taught to children because until they start hunting, at age 12, they don't really need to know. They are just traveling from home to school and only need to know the danger of the weather that is already there. Their parents help them dress appropriately for existing weather. Children mostly learn about animal signs and habitats with awareness of weather coming through daily life. For example: in summer fish camp ladies might say "let's hurry and check the fish net before that big rain cloud gets here": or in winter, children might come to realize that clouds bring warm weather or might hear people in the store talking about upcoming storms. Direct instruction about weather signs and prediction would not occur until there was the need to know associated with independent travel on the land. He said he first started learning about the weather when he went spring hunting for muskrat at age 12. By then he knew animal signs and knew it was likely to rain then, so he dressed for it. He also knew that a west wind blowing at that time of year (in the latter part of May) would freeze over the tops of lakes and ponds again, making it hard for the muskrat to push up.

Regarding the need to know, Jonas also talked about weather knowledge maybe not being so crucial in a place like Kotzebue where people have cars, heating oil, electricity and frequent weather forecasts on the radio. Unless they are going out hunting or traveling by snow machine or dog team to another village, they might not have a reason to know the weather. He said this is also true in some villages today because of similar conveniences. But when he was younger, you needed to pay close attention to the weather and prepare for it because you would have to go get wood or haul water, no matter what the weather. "You couldn't just go borrow wood from your neighbor. That wouldn't be okay." You watched the weather in the morning and last thing at night so that you could prepare for the next day. Visits to the outhouse were good for this checking.

Jonas also talked about how using dog teams in the old days compared to snow machines now. With dogs, if the weather got stormy and you couldn't see, you just stopped and waited. Now, with snow machines, people just go and go until they maybe run out of gas and get into trouble.

 

 

Selawik Weather - winter

If it's clear and cold, -20° or -30° F, maybe there are a few clouds but its nice and calm. The wind isn't supposed to blow now. If the wind starts to blow (usually East-Southeast, but West in March/April) when its not supposed to, people gathered maybe in the store will say "ooh, cold". In Iñupiaq they say qiunaurauqtuq which means he'sbeckoning the storm. You know it will be stormy - blowing/drifting snow. It makes you decide to stay home. Animals will stay home too. This is very reliable.

The west winds are always cold this time of year. If there's a storm from the west its cold. People say the west wind is a "poor artist". It piles up snowdrifts here and there, messy, rough and uneven.

Selawik is in a valley. East winds blow regularly. They prevail in Selawik. In flat country, the east winds leave long, straight 10" - 12" drifts that are very consistent. Unlike the west wind, the east wind does beautiful work. When its whiteout all over and you're not sure where you are, these drifts are very helpful. Selawik Lake is 15 miles wide and 39 miles long. When you're out fishing for sheefish and can't see the shore, you can cut diagonally across the drifts or follow them to get where you want to go. If you maybe can't see the shore but can see the mountains, you can line up a mountain to the northwest between 2 nice hills and get to shore and then follow the shore home. Lining up this way and looking for pressure ridges that have been created by currents and wind also puts you in place to find fishing holes used for hundreds of years because fish follow the currents.

In the winter, there is just one type of cloud - the cloud that brings snow.

Clouds bring warmth. When its clear and not so cold and you feel the East-Southeast winds pick up and see clouds forming, you will feel colder - a new damp cold, not a dry cold. That damp cold passes quickly and then you feel warmer because it's become cloudy.

A halo around the sun or moon means a change from existing weather. Sundogs on either side of the sun also mean its going to change.

We don't dread the cold; it's just an everyday thing. We just dress for it. We have no concerns about it. We complain more about heat. Before we learned to say "good morning" in English, our greetings might have to do with weather observations of the day. You might say, "you can see animal tracks," meaning that you are going hunting or trapping. If you say "its cold" as a greeting, if the cold is worth a comment, then it's cold. The person you greet will likely ask more - wanting to know if it's colder than yesterday. You might also greet saying "even though its cold, you were able to wake up." We don't really have terms for different amounts of cold.

If its -30° I encourage my son not to check traps or go out but he is likely to warm up his snow machine and go. Its not really taking chances because you're home. Anywhere on the land is home.

Even at 1° F, winds of 20mph, gusting to 25-30 mph are very cold.

When you blow air out of your mouth at -70° F it looks and sounds like a jet. At -50° F, I put a light bulb on the propane box so it will flow. Once at -62° F in Selawik, before electricity and oil heat, I tried to pour kerosene from a 5-gallon container on the porch. It came out like Karo syrup. A trapper in a tent told me his kerosene was like lard at -70° F.

We talk about wind in terms of how its handling visible stuff like grass in summer and snow drifts in winter. If you're home and look out the window, if smoke from a neighbor's stack is leaning over, you know there's a little bit of a breeze or maybe the smoke is moving vigorously. If snow is drifting on the ground, the wind is strong, a surface wind. In storm conditions, visibility is affected and you can't see across the street - on a snow machine, you can't see your skis. 20-25 mph winds are a storm. 30mph winds are a blizzard and even if its warm, a fine powder of snow finds its way in through your clothes. If you go out, you need a facemask and goggles. Its better to stay put, stay home.

Kotzebue Weather - spring and summer

Wind Balls

When ice is loose and you are seal hunting out off the bay from Sheshalik or from Kotzebue. It's calm and beautiful. You put seals in the boat after hunting, gutting, and sewing back up. You see fluffy clouds that seem high when you are on the ocean but you can't see land. Small, high clouds form and disappear. You see that and you scoot into land because you could get caught in a storm even it it's a beautiful day. This is associated with a warm trend. Wind is indicated, not necessarily rain. This is true for spring and summer days.

 

Selawik Weather - fall

In the fall time, north winds are cold. It can be kind of severe when the winds are northeast.

We feel cold in fall with open water when we are going from a warm summer to winter cold. Not so much in the spring when we are going from cold to warm.

Animals

If the migratory birds in spring don't come when they are expected, if they are delayed, they know something about the weather that we don't. We will expect cool weather since birds a staying put elsewhere. When you start to see them, you know the weather will be okay.

Winter animals - scavengers like fox will be seen and leave tracks but they're not that enthusiastic about going out in a storm.

When your hearing is good, you can hear birds. When you are out muskrat hunting and its late evening - 2 AM and you are resting by a pond waiting for muskrats, you take a little nap and the birds nap too. When your hearing is gone, it's a lonesome world.

Raven brings the cold west wind. We had been checking a raven nest on the water project platform (in Kotzebue). There was a nest with 4 or 5 eggs. When I checked one day, I saw all the nest and eggs in the water. I felt a loss in my heart. Last spring was a real cold west wind.

Safety

Crystallized bottom snow is best to eat. During a long walk, frost that forms on your ruff or mustache from tears or nose, is the best way to wet your mouth. It is part of you and has the best energy.

It's critical to teach life and death like thin ice situations or weather signs. The ice is solid to walk upon 3 or 4 days after freeze up but if it snows, the ice can become weak and you will sink through. At the mouth or shallow spot or connections between rivers are predictable for thin ice when weather warms up or if snow covers it and insulates it. Even a little current will take it.

If you have frostbite on the tip of your nose, ears and so forth, come in and thaw it out with snow. Thaw it slowly, not with heat. This should avoid getting a blister. Frostbite is very much like a burn.

Warm up snow machines with a camp stove and then try to avoid bare hands touching metal. If you warm metal too fast, water droplets form on it. Guns will weep - sweat and if you take a gun out again, everything will freeze and not be useful.

Other Information

If a person breaks a leg or ribs or has some arthritis, they can predict the onset of weather change from how their bones feel.

I have a cousin who stutters. One time I heard him talking real clearly and commented. His stuttering is worse when the weather changes and better when it's clear.

 

To explain how the wind forms, there is a bear rug for a door. The room is warm but outside its 20 below. Open the door and see the cold air come in.

If an elderly person dies, it rains in the summer and snows in the winter. His tracks he has been using, he won't use anymore so the rain and snow cover or wash them away.

If you watch your fire and it has real good flame and the flame is blue, the weather will be nice the next day too but if the flame is read, it will be bad weather. I don't remember this being real predictable but its ok because you are home safe - not in danger


 

Standards

Section I - Observing Locally

Section II - Understanding Wind

Section III - Connecting Globally

Appendix A - Selawik Weather Information from Jonas Ramoth

Appendix B - Assessment

Appendix C - Weather Resource List

Appendix D - Interdisciplinary Integration


 

 

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Driftwood Snowshoes Moose
Plants of the Tundra Animal Classification for Yup'ik Region Rabbit Snaring
The Right Tool for the Job
Fishing Tools and Technology
Blackfish Family Tree
Medicinal Plants of the Kodiak Alutiiq Archipelago Beaver in Interior Alaska Digging and Preparing Spruce Roots
Moose in Interior Alaska Birds Around the Village  

 

Handbook for Culturally Responsive Science Curriculum by Sidney Stephens
Excerpt: "The information and insights contained in this document will be of interest to anyone involved in bringing local knowledge to bear in school curriculum. Drawing upon the efforts of many people over a period of several years, Sidney Stephens has managed to distill and synthesize the critical ingredients for making the teaching of science relevant and meaningful in culturally adaptable ways."

 

 

Go to University of AlaskaThe University of Alaska Fairbanks is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution and is a part of the University of Alaska system.

 


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Last modified August 18, 2006